I have been sitting on this interview for WEEKS waiting for the perfect moment to drop it like a hot mix tape. This is that moment. Last Podcast on the Left makes its triumphant/terrifying return to DC at this year’s Bentzen Ball. Tickets are on sale. It will probably sell out. The boys are currently in the UK where they have sold out every show. It’s truly a beautiful thing they have going and I’m referring to a podcast that discusses things like a serial killer who had a penchant for chewing on uteruses.
Brightest Young Things: Your voice doesn’t sound as deep when filtered through my shitty HTC cell phone. How are you? Last time we saw each other I was crying. Which leads me to my first question…how is my crying face?
Ben Kissel: On a scale of 1 – 10, ten being beautiful and one being absolutely atrocious and deeply disturbing…I thought it was a ten. I didn’t think there was anything disturbing about your crying face. It looks like you’ve done it before. You had composure under tears which is really impressive. You didn’t let your bottom lip quiver. You kept a stoic face as tears rolled down your cheeks.
BYT: I think noticing I’ve done that publicly before is the nicest thing you can say. You guys are selling your shows out really quickly. Something Marcus and I talked about is this keeps happening. You sold out a huge show in LA. The venue had about 400 seats?
BK: We sold out Baltimore the first time we went. They put us up in the attic. We under sold ourselves and ended up filling up the room. It sold out in 25 minutes. The last time we were in Baltimore we were in the big boy room. When we went to LA we were at the Crest Westwood Theater in Westwood.
BYT: This is a nice part of LA. It’s near Beverly Hills. If I had to put Last Podcast on the Left in a section of Los Angeles, Westwood would not be my first choice because it’s very wealthy.
BK: It was unbelievably clean to the point where I thought I was in bizarro future world where everything had to be sterilized constantly. It was so clean it was uncomfortable. My parents let us be wild as children, growing up in Wisconsin. We were constantly filthy. There is something about pure clean streets that makes me really uncomfortable. And because it’s so close to UCLA the bars in that area don’t serve liquor. This is so classic, the unintended consequences of laws. Politicians are constantly making these mistakes. All they’re doing is driving kids in UCLA to walk further to bars that serve hard liquor. When they’re walking back God knows what’s happening to these kids. Best case scenario they fall down. Worst case scenario I don’t want to think about it.
BYT: Sounds like someone did some alcohol gerrymandering and they put all the hard stuff in the bad part of town.
BK: You know gerrymandering came from a former Massachusetts governor, Gerry. He redistricted a district and it looks like a salamander and that’s why they call it gerrymandering.
BYT: I want that to be true.
BK: It is true! That is 100% true. That’s how simple all this stuff is.
BYT: I was worried this conversation wasn’t going to flow because when I chatted with Marcus I realized he and I are similar. He’s kind of emotional and I say this having met him once but we chat a bit on Facebook.
BK: Well Marcus has a great podcast called Sex and Other Human Activities where he reveals a little bit more of his personal, emotional side. He does it with Jackie Zebrowski, Henry Zebrowski’s sister. It is fascinating hearing people being so emotionally available. I’m a first generation German. My father’s an immigrant from Germany so dare I say it wasn’t exactly the warmest house.
BYT: Yeah that Berlin Wall wasn’t an accident. It started out as an emotional wall then they willed it into being.
BK: That’s right we’re going to break down our emotional Berlin Walls. I watched a Tony Robbins documentary recently and I feel like some major breakthroughs are happening. It was a retreat full of people who were exceptionally lonely, looking for answers. It seems like this message of unbridled positivity registered with them. It is what it is. He is very good at being a self-help guru though the name of the documentary is I Am Not Your Guru.
BYT: My favorite Tony Robbins story is his small but pivotal role in Shallow Hal.
BK: I knew you were going to say Shallow Hal.
BYT: I love that movie top to bottom even though it’s really fucking mean. This kind of leads into what I want to talk about. First of all I feel like you’re the most mysterious member of Last Podcast on the Left. I think of you as the parent who has to keep Henry and Marcus in line because they will get very heated. You have to keep them in line.
BK: They’re very passionate about the project.
BYT: Well you are too, no one is saying you’re not, but I feel like someone has to be there to make sure things don’t go too off the rails and that duty has fallen to you for whatever reason.
BK: When I was growing up my parents were extremely Evangelical and both of my brothers ended up being gay. They were gay the whole time but at some point they came out and claimed it. It was always sort of my job growing up to keep things on a civil level and headed in a positive direction. There is no denying that character trait has transferred over to my hosting abilities.
BYT: Everything was resting on your shoulders.
BK: It wasn’t resting on my shoulders it was just…you try to get through dinner. You try to make it as pleasurable as possible. It was a pretty interesting time. I think learning those sorts of skills early on really helped. Obviously it’s not nearly as intense or difficult keeping Marcus and Henry on track because the subject matter is much more exciting than my mother discussing how Jesus might be coming back so there is really no reason to go to school tomorrow because you never know when the rapture might happen.
BYT: I bet in Wisconsin that’s a common excuse for calling out of school.
BK: I had the best relationship a kid could ever have with his mom because she believed the rapture was going to happen. Education was not an emphasis even though I did get my degree in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin. If I would wake up on a Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday morning and didn’t want to go to school she’d say “That’s good Ben, you need your sleep.” I’d wake up around 10:00 and we’d go to the Piggly Wiggly together which is one of the best supermarkets that ever existed and is now going out of business.
BYT: Oh so that’s a real place.
BK: They’re real. It was the first place I ever got to go alone. So yeah, I used to hang out with my mom a lot. We did community theater together. We had a great relationship.
BYT: That’s adorable. I hope she’s doing well.
BK: Yeah, my parents are in Florida in a retirement community. My father ran for the presidency of the retirement community but due to his German lineage he didn’t exactly win.
BYT: Oh, because there are so many Jewish people in Florida.
BK: There were a few if you can imagine the demographic of a retirement home in Ft. Lauderdale. It might not necessarily be the best for someone from Germany. Most of the people voting were 80 years old.
BYT: That’s funny, can I say that?
BK: He lost the election to a Muslim fella who didn’t speak English and I think he was elected because he was easy to manipulate. They knew my dad was going to bring food and water to the pool. You can’t have food and water at the pool and that was one of my father’s major platforms. My father will one day claim the status of presidency. Reagan ran three times before he won.
BYT: How do you balance your…Are you allowed to talk about your job? I don’t really know what you do. Well I do know what you do but I don’t know where you work. Ben, what do you do.
BK: I work at News Corp which is where Fox News is located. I write for a show called Red Eye which is a 3 am comedy show. It’s been a very fun experience. A year ago I went on Red Eye for the first time and that was a big deal for me. A year later I ended up working for the show. It’s been a really interesting experience. I have to say 13 year-old White Zombie loving Ben Kissel would be absolutely astonished.
BYT: Politics were touched on lightly in say the Secret Societies episode which talked about the Illuminati and Bohemian Grove where everybody is having sex with Ronald Reagan’s ghost or what have you. Is there some topic where there could be more intersection. What is your ideal topic you haven’t covered?
BK: I love every single topic. When Marcus does the research it’s pretty amazing. It’s basically whatever book he’s reading at the time. We try to pepper in our heavy hitter episodes or the alien episodes. There is a very large field we can play on when it comes to topics. Frankly I’m very happy with the content of the show and I can’t think of one thing we haven’t gotten to. My favorite, when it comes to politics meeting Last Podcast, was the 9/11 show. That’s Marcus’ whole thing. The amount of research that goes into the show is really what matters. Marcus has talked about wanting to be a history teacher at some point. You can see that in him. He has such unbelievable passion for history and has such a well of knowledge and he continues to want to learn. When it comes to a subject we haven’t gotten to yet…I really think the 9/11 episodes, especially the first one where we have a lot of the coverage coming from the people on the ground…
BYT: That was very difficult to listen to. I was crying on the Metro listening to that.
BK: Happy we were able to release your beautiful crying face into the world again.
BYT: I remember texting with Henry about that and saying it’s really easy to divorce yourself from some of the other topics because they happened so long ago. Most of the people listening to that episode were there. My mother works in DC and I remember not being able to reach her that day. It was very upsetting.
BK: My brother-in-law Don is a great guy, he’s like a savior of the Kissel family. He was there, hiding in a doorway covered in soot by the end of it. It was a very real event and it happened extremely recently to such a huge group of people. Not just the ramifications felt throughout the nation, but also things like reauthorizing the militarization of the police. There were so many different things that came from it like our atrocious foreign policy we’re still suffering under. The actual event itself, ground zero, affected thousands and thousands of people. Hopefully the scope is something we’ll never see again. That’s why it was so powerful. It affected all walks of life, everyone was affected. That was my personal, I don’t want to say favorite but…
BYT: You really did it justice.
BK: We found proper ways to insert humor but also doing it with respect to the significance of the event and to the victims of the event. We’re doing a really good job of delivering the harsh realities of our world that doesn’t cause people to have more anger after they’re done listening which just perpetuates the cycle of violence that needs to stop.
BYT: You guys are doing really well. People have literally flown to wherever to see a live episode.
BK: All over the world…we sold out all our shows in the UK. It’s really been phenomenal to see how this thing has taken off. Everything at Cave Comedy Radio is doing unbelievably well. Marcus has done such a good job of making an organic grassroots podcast network be a viable player in a sea of money and celebrity. For all intents and purposes we began as essentially unknown and we’re becoming more known. What I love the most is every step we’ve had to take. There was no leap forward where you have the potential to think you’re better than someone else. We’ve taken every step the hard way much like Pat Summit when she was dying of cancer. Speaking of crying in public I cried on a plane watching her funeral. She was amazing. She would say people would talk to her about having cancer and how she’s doing it and she would say “You know what I do I just go left foot, right foot breathe and that’s what I do.” That’s what Cave Comedy Radio has been and that’s what Marcus, Henry and I have done. We’ve been forced to take every step ourselves. It has really been a great work in progress but because of that we have the greatest podcast in the world with Last Podcast on the Left. Abe Lincoln’s Top Hat is without a doubt the best political podcast you can listen to. Round Table of Gentleman feels like you’re getting drunk with your friends. It’s really been fun.